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The number of nurse vacancies in the NHS in England “remains stubbornly high”, the Royal College of Nursing has warned, as latest figures reveal more than 36,000 registered nurse gaps.
Published today, figures from NHS Digital showed that in the second quarter of 2020-21, 10% of full-time equivalent (FTE) registered nurse posts were vacant.
“Today’s figures show the vacancy rate for the planned nursing workforce remains stubbornly high”
This meant NHS England was now 36,655 nurses short, which when broken down included a gap of 9,541 mental health nurses and 16,951 acute nurses.
The statistics showed the number of nurse vacancies had reduced by 1.4% since June 2020 and by more than 15% since this time last year.
However, due to the way figures are reported, NHS Digital said year on year comparisons should be avoided.
The statistics show that London was experiencing the highest vacancy rates with 9,171 nurse gaps, while the Midlands was short by 7,484 and the South East by 5,414.
In addition, the North East and Yorkshire were short of 4,969 nurses, whilst the East had 3,105 vacancies and the South West had 2,032.
The actual number of missing nurses across the England is likely to be much higher as the data does not include vacancies outside the NHS such as in social care and general practice.
Mike Adams, Royal College of Nursing director for England, said: “The government continues to say it is on course to meet the target of 50,000 more nurses, but today’s figures show the vacancy rate for the planned nursing workforce remains stubbornly high.
“It hampers attempts to provide top quality patient care.”
He said the RCN was hearing from nurses who were “exhausted and concerned for the welfare of their colleagues”.
On Wednesday the chancellor of the exchequer confirmed that nurses in the NHS would be given a pay rise next year, though he did not specify how much they would receive.
Mr Adams said the latest vacancy figures showed “how desperately” a pay rise was needed for the profession.
“Ministers must get nursing recruitment back on track by paying nursing staff the wages they deserve,” he added.
Meanwhile, separate NHS workforce data for August 2020, also published today, showed that over the last year the number of FTE nurses had gone up by 14,813 – from 280,599 to 295,412.
The same data also showed the number of doctors in the NHS in England had risen by 6,257 since 2019 to a record 121,726.
In addition it was recently reported that a record number of student nurses had been placed on nursing courses across the UK this year.
Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said: “Not only do we have record numbers of doctors and over 14,800 more nurses working in our NHS than last year, but our pipeline of future talent in nursing, medicine and general practice is now at record levels.
“We are well on our way to deliver on our manifesto commitment of 50,000 more nurses in the NHS.”
Mr Hancock added he was “deeply grateful for the continued hard work of all our NHS staff throughout this pandemic”.
It is unclear if the figures published today take into account nurses who returned to practice to support the response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Nursing Times has approached NHS Digital and the Department of Health and Social Care for clarification.